Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Tiger Sighting in Pench National Park

We wanted to see tigers! Tigers in the wild :) . Had been to Bandipur twice, Nagarhole once in Karnataka, but the tigers remained as elusive as ever. Not that the chattering crowd on these safaris helped us any bit and as you might have guessed, to our dismay, the final outcome on these safaris was negative.

Pench National Park 

Determined to see this endangered cat in the wild, we booked the Pench Tree Lodge in Madhya Pradesh (MP) for 3 nights. The lodge is situated on the outskirts of the park near the Kirmajhiri gate in Seoni, MP. This Park is mainly a teak forest with the Pench river flowing through it. It was declared a Tiger Reserve in the 90s and is now home to around 40-45 tigers and 280 varieties of birds. The forest houses many leopards as well as you see in the picture below but they are really hard to spot. Also, it is the very same forest which Rudyard Kipling mentions in his book - 'The Jungle Book'. Was excited to know that we were about to explore the Mowgliland!

The forest is spread across MP and Maharashtra and there are a total of 11 safari gates across the two states. However, in MP the three main entry gates to the national park are Turia, Karmajhiri and Jhamtara. Our lodge was situated near the Karmajhiri gate and that obviously would be our entry gate to the forest.

Karmajhiri Gate


Our Smooth Journey on NH44

We reached Nagpur airport early in the morning and an Innova was waiting for us to ferry us to the lodge. It was 7:30 in the morning and we decided to try the local breakfast before we headed to the highway. Our Hindi-speaking driver drove us to a nearby thela to eat ‘tarri poha’. Tarri poha is a popular breakfast in Nagpur. Mildly spiced poha (flattened rice) topped up with a really spicy tarri (coconut-based curry) and chiwda with chopped onions. The breakfast was delicious and spicy as expected. The thela had attracted quite a crowd early in the morning with locals thronging the place with their two wheelers, cars and enjoying the spicy fare.

The super spicy tarri poha
The 135 odd kms drive to the lodge via NH44 was a smooth affair. We cruised through the two-lane highway in around 3 hours and were welcomed to the lodge with a cool lemonade – perfect welcome to beat the scorching heat.


The Charming Pench Tree Lodge

We had booked the tree house lodging and were very happy with the ‘jungle’ experience it offered. The lodge was in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of the National Park, creating a perfect jungle atmosphere for us. The tree house was perched on the branches of the Mahua tree and was supported with stilts. It was an air-conditioned room with lots of storage space and a large patio overlooking the grasslands. Insects and rodents were hardly a nuisance as the tree house was thoroughly insect-proof, clean and impeccable.

Our beautiful tree house
The eco-friendly property boasts of 6 tree houses and 6 cottages constructed around a wooden structure which houses the communal dining room on the ground floor and a library cum viewing point on the floor above. The lodge had employed the locals there who were doing a commendable job in the hospitality sector.

Meals were a grand affair especially the dinners, which were 4-course meals crafted with local Indian recipes. The food was organic, grown in their farms and had a homely touch to it. When one is being served hot phulkas right off the stove with a variety of local, fresh organic vegetables and dals, then there is nothing to complain and life is surely wonderful in the jungle!

Organic farm
To add to the experience, our last dinner at the lodge was a bush dinner under the starry sky with a butler at our service…cool, ain’t it?


Exhilarating Tiger Safaris

The highlight of our stay there was indisputably the 3-hour long safaris. The timings of the safari change to suit the seasons by an hour here and there but the thrill remains the same – to spot a wildlife in the forest which may be lurking around in our vicinity behind the dense vegetation, unseen to our human eyes.

We had booked three such private safaris through our lodge. The safari was carried out in an open-air jeep with a naturalist and a guide in tow. Mr. Harish, the manager of our lodge accompanied us with a local forest guide on our first safari. We started at 3:30 pm from the Karmajhiri gate and spotted many spotted deers, quite a few sambals, jackals, langoors, peacocks and a variety of colorful birds. It was around 5 pm in the evening and we were still scouting through the dry teak forest for a glimpse of the rare tiger. Soon enough, our experienced guides heard warning signals fill up the air near the Bijamattha waterhole. A langoor scampered up the slope of the waterhole and fled away. Spotted deers too ran away from the waterhole but remained in the vicinity, alert and ready to flee. This was good news for us. A tiger was approaching the waterhole.

We decided to park our jeep there and wait. We had ample of time to get back to our Karmajhiri gate by 6:45 pm, when the gates closed for the day. It usually took around 45 minutes from the Bijamattha to reach the Karmajhiri gate, so luckily we had time to wait for the tiger to come down the waterhole. Unlike our safaris in Kruger (South Africa), here we did not off-road in the jungle to track the animals. Our jeep stayed on the designated path. This is practised to protect the endangered flora of our forests.

We waited patiently for around half an hour and lo! Our patience was rewarded. The tiger strode in majestically down the slope of the waterhole. It went behind a mud mound for a few seconds and again reappeared on the scene to drink water. Then it leisurely lay down near the banks allowing us to capture it in our cameras beautifully! That was our first tiger sighting and delighted we were…

Tiger Sighting Finally!
We did not spot any tiger in our next two safaris but it was a great bird watching experience. We spotted a woodpecker, a pair of rare hornbills, crested Indian eagle, blue roller and many others. The vastness and solitude of the forest which engulfed us during our safari rides, was broken only by the cheerful chirping of these colorful birds.

Woodpecker making a rhythmic pecking sound - felt wonderful to the ears

Rare variety of hornbills
Dancing Peacock


Blue Roller Bird? (Not sure of the name)
The morning safaris also carried a lavish breakfast spread for us to be had in the forest. Aloo parathas, pickle, muffins, cakes, cheese sandwiches, boiled eggs, packed juices, fresh fruits and on top of that, the chef was so graciously asking if this was enough for us! Breakfast in the wild was awesome :)

Not just the safaris, it was a great experience to mingle with other like-minded guests at the common dining area. We had interesting conversations with the guides during the safaris as well. The lodge’s in house guide/wildlife expert – Chinmay deserves a special mention as he truly regaled us with his treasure trove of knowledge and information about our forests and its inhabitants.

Tips:


  1. It is recommended to book the safaris (via the lodge or directly online) atleast 3-4 months in advance as the slots fill out pretty quickly 
  2. The Pench National Park is closed between the months of July to September during the rainy season
  3. Best time to visit the park for a tiger sighting is during the summer months 
  4. Pench Tree Lodge: http://www.penchtreelodge.com/
     Phone #: +91-124-4222657, 2570404, 2571404

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